Part 3: In choosing cheeses for this week’s July 4 picnic with Foodinjars, I wanted to use cheeses that would be broadly available across America. So, I trolled the cheese case of Trader Joe’s in search of the best selections. Typically, I purchase fresh cut cheeses at a cheese shop so I know that it’s fresh, but Trader Joe’s has high turn-over, especially in this city, so I felt okay about plucking shrink-wrapped morsels from the grab’n go case.
For my 3 cheeses, I sought to vary milk type and texture. I avoided the rainbow of “flavored” cheese — not my thing (flavors often override the taste of the cheese) and nabbed these three beauties:
- Goat Brie
- Mini Basque
- Cave-aged blue
The combination offers a good range of flavors, too, from mild Brie to sharp Blue.
Pairing the Cheeses
GOAT BRIE – mild and grassy, this is a great cheese to pair with fresh berries and a drizzle of honey, or it’s a dream canvas for a spiced chutney, like Marisa’s Sweet Cherry Chutney. No time to make this at home? Try this: use a quality store-bought chutney, or top this Brie with really good strawberry preserves and a few cranks of black pepper. For a stunning presentation, set out the whole wheel on a saucer, spread a thin layer of jam on top, and sprinkle on black pepper. (That peppery bite mirrors the slightly pepperiness in the rind of the cheese.) Garnish with a few sprigs of mint around the edges or some finely chopped mint on top of the round. Gorgeous. Serve with cocktails, rosé, or bubbly.
MINI BASQUE – the mild taste of brown butter makes this cheese a good match for a slightly sweet cracker, like the homemade honey graham crackers from 101 Cookbooks I made for this picnic. You can also buy really good graham crackers at Trader Joe’s or use Effie’s Oatcakes — one of my pantry staples. To me, this tastes like a very young Petit Basque, a cheese I wrote about in 2010 for a picnic feature on my old blog (before the redesign). It’s made from sheep’s milk and is wonderful with red wine and anything with cherries. For a perfect bite, slice this cheese onto a sweet cracker, and top it with cherry preserves or chutney. You can also shave it onto a summery green salad studded with blueberries and toasted almonds.
CAVE-AGED BLUE – this is a cheese with voltage — it’s salty and sharp, a good cheese for a picnic on the beach amid salt spray and cocktails. To me, this tastes a lot like Maytag Blue, great in dressings or served with a sharp complement like chutney or spiced blueberries.
Phew! It’s been a flurry of posts this week. Next up: the last post in my series with Foodinjars. I’ll talk cheese party prep and give an overview of links to all the recipes on our July 4 Cheese Picnic series.
Part 2 of a series: I’m a big believer in pairing cocktails and cheese. Especially in sultry summer. The cocktail should be bright. It should fizz — effervescence cleanses the palate. And the presentation should make people gasp. A good cocktail, like a splendid cheese, should be arresting…even a bit lusty.
The truth is, you don’t need to be a cocktail genius to develop a lusty cocktail. Below, you’ll find my recipe for these Raspberry Shrub Cocktails, but first, here’s my trick for building a quick garden cocktail that brightens a backyard party or travels well on a picnic. Especially a cheese picnic.
1. Pick a Clear Spirit
Grab a bottle of vodka or gin. (If it’s me, it’s gin. No question. I love the botanicals.) You’ll need 1 to 2 ounces per drink.
2. Pick a Juice or Two (preferably on the acidic side)
Here, I combined a hefty splash of lemonade and a small splash of raspberry shrub — a tart syrup made with fruit, sugar, and vinegar. (I always keep Tait Farm fruit shrubs in my pantry — but I also like to make my own, using this basic shrub recipe). You could also use lime, cherry juice, blueberry juice, or pomegranate juice. Plan on 2 to 3 ounces of juice (total) per drink.
3. Pick your Bubbles
Champagne, club soda, mineral water, or ginger beer are all great topper-offers. I used club soda, but I like to pop open a bottle of Prosecco or Champagne if I’m having friends over. You’ll want 2 to 3 ounces of bubbly for each drink.
4. Pick some Herbs
A sprig of herbs adds aroma and creates a connection between your cocktail and your dairy (milk begins with animals eating vegetation, after all.) Basil, thyme, sage, mint, or rosemary are all great in cocktails. Spank your herbs between your hands before floating them on top of your drink — that releases their aroma. If you have cheeky friends, make them spank their own herbs.
Pairing Cheese and Cocktails
Here’s the secret: a sparkly drink with a fresh herb garnish will work with pretty much any cheese, which is why these drinks are ideal for serving with a cheese board. Mozzarrella? Great. Salty Pecorino? No problem. Funky stinker? Be glad you’ve added the herbs to freshen your breath!
Lusty Shrub Sparklers a la Madame Fromage
This is a mellow, rather genteel cocktail — easy for afternoons and swell with all kinds of cheeses. Read through the instructions for making a lusty cocktail in the note. Do you like to muddle and grind? This is the question. If not, let it all float.
1.5 ounces gin (I use Plymouth, it’s soft and balanced)
3 ounces lemonade (or 1/2 ounce fresh-squeezed lemon juice, if you like things tart)
2 teaspoons raspberry shrub (I like Tait Farm’s)
club soda or sparkling water
fresh thyme, a lemon wedge, and raspberries to garnish
Pour gin, lemonade, and shrub into a rocks or collins glass. Stir. Add ice and top with club soda. Run the lemon (peel-side) around the rim to release the oils and drop it in. Top with a raspberry and a sprig of spanked thyme. Now you have a mellow, genteel cocktail that pairs easily with so many cheeses. NOTE: If you feel truly lusty, muddle the lemon wedge, raspberries, and thyme in the bottom of the glass before you do anything else — this makes for a more robust taste of bitter peel and herbs.
Stay tuned for the next post: I’ll share the cheese board I paired with these cocktails — you may recognize them already, but I’ll explain why I chose them and what preserves to pair with them. For the introduction to this July 4 series, view the first post on my July 4 Cheese and Preserves Picnic and be sure to visit my friend Marisa over at Foodinjars.com to see this cheese-and-jam collab unfold.
When one leads the life of a cheese courtesan, one tends to court a good many cheese-centric friends. So, whenever I feel the ashy edges of blogger burn-out — which has happened lately, amid the juggling of several projects — I try to connect with the people who move me. Whenever this lady sings the blues, I call on my oldest and dearest Philadelphia friend, Marisa of Foodinjars. Usually, she comes over with some preserves.
For July 4, Marisa and I offer you a week-long cheese and preserves spectacular. We’ll be posting recipes and sharing links for everything you see in this picture:
- condiments and cocktails
- homemade honey grahams and spiced brittle
- plus, picnic cheeses for a budget (I sniffed out the best of Trader Joe’s)
So, linger a while. Stock up on cherries and blueberries. Grab some parchment paper to make your own crackers (so easy). And if you’ve never canned before, consider picking up a few jars — Marisa will walk you through the steps. Too knackered? No worries, we’ll tell you how to build your pantry with easy substitutes from the store. This week, it’s all about sharing bites, pairing flavors, and making July 4 both easy and splendid.
Special Thanks to Peg & Awl
The boards you see in this shoot were loaned to us by Margaux Kent of Peg & Awl, new friend extraordinaire and dairy fan forever. Big thanks to her son Silas, hand model and patient child.
His reward for sitting through an hour of photo styling? A kiddie cocktail. And he got to climb a tree.
Friends, run to your cupboards! What’s in them that you love, love, love? I’m asking because I’ve got an itch to start a series about the crackers, preserves, nuts, and noms that people covet for building snack plates — the sorta stuff you can stash now and set out later to build a fabulous, seemingly spontaneous cheese board.
This idea came from my spring intern, Erin, whose parting words were: Your blog needs a pantry page.
A pantry page? Brilliant grrrrl. But then, sometimes it takes a stranger to notice that you eat mostly out of a file drawer at work. I have 3 desk drawers, and one of them contains a full stash of cheese boards, napkins, toothpicks, and butter knives, not to mention crackers, tins of nuts, candied ginger, cashews, dates, and ohhhh, sometimes a flask of bourbon.
This week’s cheese pantry link is: Heirloom Paw Paw Curd.
What is Paw Paw Curd?
Well, you’ve heard of lemon curd? Paw paw curd is a custard-like spread made from a wee mango-like fruit that’s native to the eastern United States. I first heard about paw paws several years ago at a local farmers’ market since they grow in PA, and just recently I met a Philadelphia distiller developing a paw paw brandy (it was, I might add, shockingly delicious).
So I got excited when I saw a jar of Paw Paw curd over at Scrumptious Pantry, a Chicago enterprise belonging to Lee Greene who cans historical varietals. Her site is a sort of renegade e-cupboard — full of curious catsups and quirky pickles. She urged me to try her Beaver Dam Peppers, because I have a ventricle attached to family in Wisconsin. But Beaver Damn Peppers did not move me. They did not. I wanted Paw Paw Curd.
Paw Paw Curd Pairings
Butterscotch cream pie — that’s kinda how paw paw curd tastes. BUT, there’s some fruit funk to it. And you know I love funk. This curd sent me right to my favorite mecca of funk, the Di Bruno Bros. cheese case in the Italian Market, for I’d heard whisperings of a real gaper, a new Alpine stinker called Schnebelhorn. Need I even describe it?
Paw paw curd is to stinky cheese what chocolate is to bacon — it’s a dessert-ifier. Dob some paw paw curd on an oozy buddy, like Humble Pie or Red Hawk, and you’ve got a savory sweetie. Some will find this to be an acquired taste and prefer a more delicate cheese — like the sweet lamb that is Leonora — or soothing mascarpone. But I’m telling you: I took a hunk of stinky cheese, some paw paw curd, and a box of graham crackers out to the stoop the other night, and the neighbors ett it all up.
Next week: A July 4 Cheese Spread with Marisa McClellan of Foodinjars! The pantry explodes! We’ll have recipes for crackers, cherry chutney, pickled blueberries, shrub cocktails, and spicy brittle for you patriotic cheese board. We even raid Trader Joe’s for easy-to-find hunks that all Americans can sink their teeth into. Break out the sparklers and the mystery raw-milk blue!
Disclosure: This is where I tell you that Scrumptious Pantry sent me the sample jar of paw paw curd you see in these photos. The cheeses featured on the board were my own selection, purchased from my own dairy kitty. I only accept samples that are relevant to cheese, and I write up what moves me.
One of my goals this summer is to delve deeper into cheese pairings. I mean, let’s spelunk! If you enjoy stocking a pantry with bits and bobs from your travels, as I do, then you probably have a trove of potions and preserves just waiting to star-cluster around a constellation of cheeses. And with summer beading on our brows, is there a better time to avoid the oven and love on a cheese board for both lunch and dinner?
No! Let’s go! Let’s waltz through through the hotness, cheese board by cheese board.
My newest fandango? Pairing fermented black garlic, a tar-black delicacy I discovered at my local urban farm, thanks to a red-bearded garlic crier named Jimmy. He slipped two bulbs into my handbag one afternoon while I was snooping around his dairy case, and now — alongside medjool dates — I carry black garlic everywhere I go. Nibble it on the subway and you can clear the entire car. Not because it smells foul (it smells sweet, in fact) but because it looks like you are eating dog toenails.
Forget that black garlic isn’t pretty. It’s delicious — sweet, a smidge smoky, with molasses-like finish. It’s also freakishly healthy — according to Mad Dog Farms, my local purveyor, fermented black garlic boosts the immune system with nearly twice the amount of antioxidants of raw garlic.
Keen to try some? You can order black garlic directly from Mad Dog, a sustainably run farm that grows more than a dozen garlic varieties in Bloomsburg, PA. Instructables also offers a DIY approach to fermenting your own bulbs.
Pairing Black Garlic
The figgy sweetness of black garlic makes it a great match for salty cheeses. Here, I paired it with Blow Horn, a dense little geode made by The Farm at Doe Run in nearby Chester County. Blow Horn is bright and piquant with a fair bit of salinity, making it an ideal accent cheese to grate over pasta or sautéed greens. Alone on a board, it needs friends. Sweet friends.
A drizzle of honey. A spool of magic garlic.
You could also pair the new love of my life with…
- Blue cheese
- Pecorino or other hard cheeses
- Aged Gouda
How to Find Blow Horn
Look for Blow Horn around the greater Philadelphia region, at Greensgrow Farms, the cheese counter at Di Bruno Bros., Fair Food Farmstand in Reading Terminal Market, Kimberton Whole Foods, and at the monthly Thursday market in Urban Outfitters at the Navy Yard — where you can meet the adorable cheesemaking duo Sam Kennedy and Stacey Gentile.
Here, you can see Sam and Stacey with their latest acquisition, a portrait of Blow Horn by my neighbor and friend, the brilliant painter Mike Geno.
Really, a black garlic cocktail?
Couldn’t help myself! You can find the recipe over at my sibling blog, Sprig + Spirit.